None of us who get behind the wheel of a car think we are the problem when it comes to distracted driving. It’s always other drivers who can’t multitask while driving, while we are fully capable of driving and doing other things at the same time. But, statistics tell a different story. In 2015, 3,477 lives were lost in the United States because of distracted driving, and nearly 400,000 more lives were forever changed because of an injury caused by distracted drivers.
We cannot change how other people drive. But, each of us can take responsibility for our safety, our passengers’ safety, and our travelers’ safety by committing to avoid distracting behaviors while driving. Here are a few ways you can reduce distractions while driving:
- Put your phone out of reach. Silence it. Turn off the vibrate feature. Put the phone in the trunk, if necessary. Do what you need to do to avoid the mental and physical distraction that can be caused by receiving a call or a text while driving. Even if you do not answer the call or respond to the text, the momentary distraction of receiving a notification can have dire consequences.
- Use hands-free technology. If you must make phone calls or receive messages while driving, utilize hands-free and voice-activated features available in your vehicle. In more and more cities and states, this is the law. (But, again, the safest choice is to eliminate the distraction of receiving calls or messages in any way.)
- Adjust the environment inside the vehicle before putting it into drive. Select your playlist or radio station; adjust the temperature; enter your destination into GPS before you leave.
- Fully focus your mind on driving. Your own thoughts and emotions can be distractions while driving. Especially when stressed, take a moment of mindfulness before driving. Take deep breaths. Meditate for a moment. Pray. Play peaceful music. Do whatever you need to do to make sure you are in a good state of mind to handle the stresses you will encounter on the road.
- Avoid eating and drinking in the car. Especially avoid eating or drinking anything messy. (Few things are more distracting while driving than spilling hot coffee on your lap or squirting salsa on your shirt from the taco you grabbed on the way to a meeting.)
- Avoid reaching for anything. Reaching for anything—especially something in motion—takes your mind and hands away from driving. Even more than using electronic devices, reaching for something drastically increases the likelihood you will be involved in or cause a wreck. If you must reach for something, pull over to a safe spot, completely off the roadway. The safest place to pull off the road is in a parking lot or rest area. Too many people are injured or killed every year while parked on the shoulder of a roadway. So, only stop on the shoulder in an emergency.
- Avoid grooming while driving. Although putting lip balm on while stopped at a traffic light is certainly less dangerous than using an electric shaver while driving down the highway, avoiding any type of grooming activity while behind the wheel is the safest choice of all.
The biggest way you can reduce distracted driving is by appreciating that driving is a dangerous, divided attention task that requires your undivided focus. Never forget that every time you get behind the wheel of a car, you are in control of a deadly weapon, capable of destroying the lives in your path, including your own.